July 12, 2013
Mission 31: Fabien Cousteau To Live Underwater For A Month
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The grandson of late legendary diver Jacques Cousteau is looking to set a new record later this year doing what the Cousteau family has always done: exploring the underwater realms.
For Fabien's attempt, it will not only be a longer mission, but also a deeper one, as much as twice the depth his granddad spent in the underwater village (Conshelf II) at the bottom of the Red Sea all those years ago.
No exploration team has ever spent 31 days fully submerged in the name of science and discovery, but Cousteau is looking to undertake this ambitious endeavor, which has been aptly named "Mission 31." The mission will begin this fall on September 30 and end on Halloween.
Mission 31 will "test new science and tech-based experiments with underwater motorcycles, autonomous robots and Kirby Morgan tech diving helmets," according to a statement on FabienCousteau.org. The mission was announced by Cousteau on his grandfather's birthday, June 11. The "Aquarius" laboratory, owned by NOAA and operated by Florida International University, will serve as Cousteau's base camp for studying climate, pollution and overconsumption issues.
Located 63 feet under the sea and about nine miles off the coast of Key Largo, this undersea laboratory is the only habitat of its kind in the world and will host Cousteau for the duration of his mission. Cousteau's endeavor will break new ground in the exploration of the ocean. Like his grandfather before him, who was credited with creating the first underwater habitats for humans, Cousteau will herald in new innovations in ocean exploration as well.
As well, Cousteau will be broadcasting his legacy every second over multiple channels, "exposing the world to the adventure, risk and mystique of what lies beneath."
"When my grandfather's Conshelf Two mission was complete he produced an Academy Award-winning documentary film (World Without Sun), but still received critisim [sic] rooted in disbelief of how he captured the mind-boggling underwater scenes," said Cousteau. "Using the latest camera technology, we will be able to show the world every second of Mission 31 in unedited, real-time and I believe it's going to shock people. We have explored less than five percent of our ocean realms; there's so much more to be discovered."
Cousteau and his team will begin saturation training for the mission in mid-September, a few weeks before the actual mission begins on September 30. Students around the world will be able to follow the adventure in real time via Skype video calls placed in classrooms. The Weather Channel has also partnered with Cousteau to provide ongoing coverage including live reports throughout the mission.
Also, Cousteau's production team, Bonnets Rouges and Liquid Pictures, will be shooting footage for a longer format IMAX documentary in the future.
During Cousteau's month-long mission, he will be conducting research on the underwater effects of climate change on corals, sponges and sea life. He will get expert scientific advice and mission support from Northeastern University's Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative.
Cousteau and his team will also lead human physiological and psychological experiments on the effects of humans living without the presence of the sun and the effects of long-term high pressure in the underwater environment.
A Divers Alert Network (DAN) research team will also study prolonged confinement on brain function and the physiological effects of long-term saturation diving.
Among the most exciting aspects of the 31-day mission will be the use of underwater motorcycles, which Cousteau and his six-member team will use nine hours a day studying the marine life, coral reefs, and ocean acidification.
"It's very much in the same spirit of adventure and exploration as in my grandfather's day," Cousteau told CNN's Sheena McKenzie. "But by default we're living in a time where human impact is directly related to the ocean's health."
"The ocean contains 99 percent of the planet's total living space. That said, we know so little about it -- just 5 percent has been explored," he noted.
Mission 31 is not only looking to break Jacques Cousteau's 30-day Conshelf 2 mission, but also the record days spent by crews living underwater in the Aquarius lab. Previously, the longest duration anyone has spent submerged on Aquarius is 18 days.
Surpassing the 18-day mark will not come without risk. One diver, Dewey Smith, died in 2009 after his equipment failed outside the submerged lab. To that end, Cousteau and his team will spend at least two weeks prior to the mission in extreme training for the mission. The training will include members diving to depths of 120 feet, taking off their masks, being spun around to make them lose their bearings and then swimming back to the habitat, all under constant supervision.
"The point of training is to make sure we're prepared for every situation," said Cousteau, who has been diving since he was four. "Once your veins are fully saturated in nitrogen you won't be able to go back to the surface because of the decompression sickness -- we'll have to slowly come back up over 24 hours."
While the underwater mission itself has risks, there are other risks above water that could also affect the 31-day adventure. The most notable risk would be that of a hurricane, which would cut the mission short if it hits near the Florida Keys.
While the seven-member team will have a wide-open ocean as its playground, the living space is a much different scenario. The divers will live together in a small space, regularly testing oxygen levels, stress levels, blood pressure and other vital signs during the mission.
The team will get about five to six hours of sleep each night. In order to cut exhaustion rates down, the team will also disconnect from the world for at least half a day each week during the mission for a little relaxing down time.
"I'm planning on us making sure we don't get so exhausted that we don't make silly mistakes which could be very, very costly down there," Cousteau told CNN.
Cousteau and his team are looking to raise in the neighborhood of $1.8 million for the mission, which would cover the $15,000 daily rental of Aquarius, as well as the cost of the technology being utilized and other aspects of the ambitious project. The funding is expected to come from a mix of private donations and corporate sponsorships, said Cousteau.
One corporate sponsor, Swiss watchmaker Doxa, is offering a limited-edition titanium-cased Mission 31 dive watch for just under $3,000, with a fourth of the proceeds going to the support of Mission 31. Doxa watches will be the official timekeeper of the Mission 31 project.
The Mission 31 project is also being supported by OceanElders, an organization that includes members like Sir Richard Branson and Neil Young, who will assist in raising awareness and VIP visits to Aquarius during the month-long mission. Global music artist will.i.am, founder of the i.am.angel Foundation, will also support the mission by sponsoring 12 high school students from his i.am College Track program to receive scuba training visits during Mission 31.